There was a bracing chill in the air, but with tons of celestial made powder and every inch of the mountain open, it was the perfect week for a ski trip. Spring Break of 2014 in Telluride and we were enjoying our little slice of heaven, tucked into a Colorado box canyon. My family anticipating the arrival of a dozen Bowdoin College friends of our eldest son, Simon, on a break from their final semester.
This mixed group of guys and gals, roommates at one time or another, most living now in a ramshackle old house in Brunswick, Maine. A white clapboard home that couldn’t hide the wear of decades of student living. Before they arrived, we all drew name signs and pictures to direct each new guest to their respective rooms.
Missing from the group was Simon’s closest friend and former roommate, Evan.
Freshman year, I visited my first-born in Maine, and met a gregarious, Jersey native, soccer player, Simon’s first close friend at school. They shared the same love of sports, had the same sense of humor and insatiable curiosity. They even hosted an early Sunday morning sports talk radio show together. Bowdoin’s version of Pardon the Interruption. It was impossible not to like Evan upon meeting him. With his infectious smile, you instantly loved him. Despite working two jobs to pay for his tuition, in addition to hours on the soccer field, you still felt like Evan had the world by the tail. His gift to gab and easy writing style, made it clear why his pull was to journalism. For four years Simon and Evan were inseparable, always roommates, and best of friends. Whenever he traveled west, Evan stayed at our home. When he nabbed a New York Times internship, he gave me a tour of their offices, sneaking me into places he wasn’t supposed to take guests. My wife and I stayed in touch with his Russian born parents.
After graduating, Simon and Evan texted nearly every day. Evan’s journalism career took off and I kept tabs on him through my son. We learned when he left the New York Times, getting a job in Russia working for The Moscow Times, about commuting to Paris when he got promoted to a job for Agence France Presse during Covid. January of last year we heard he won his dream job, living in Russia, reporting for the Wall Street Journal.
We told Simon how terribly worried we were for him, living in Russia during this frightening time.
It was still a scary place to be Jewish and Evan wasn’t shy about his heritage. Simon worried too—and shared that with Evan.
“Don’t worry. I’m an American journalist. They will leave me alone.”
On March 29, Simon and Evan were on a group text, discussing Simon’s August wedding and making each other laugh. A few hours later, Evan entered a restaurant in Yekaterinburg and was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service. His phone was turned off and Wall Street Journal staff were unable to locate him. By now you’ve likely realized that the affable, adorable friend is Evan Gershkovich, the WSJ journalist arrested, unlawfully held in a Moscow prison, awaiting a trial for “espionage.”
This past Thursday, Evan celebrated his 32nd birthday, stuck in a six by nine cell. No cake, parties, toasts or presents. No family or friends. It was the 211th consecutive day behind bars.
Three weeks ago, my wife and I flew to the east coast to visit with Evan’s parents, Ella and Mikhael. As a parent, it’s impossible to imagine the nightmare they’re living. I don’t know how they sleep or get through a day. I took some tiny solace that I was able to make Mikhael laugh a few times at our lunch.
Evan missed his moment to give a toast at Simon’s wedding in August. He’s missed Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, family and friends birthdays. He can get mail. Mikhael and Evan are playing a long distance game of chess via the postal service.
As we ready for the gauntlet of Halloween to New Year’s parties and vacations - keep a funny, ebullient, 32-year-old kid in your thoughts. A kid that should be planning his first trip to Telluride to ski, instead of waiting in a colorless, windowless, cement box. And if you have a moment today or tomorrow, head over to freegershkovich.com and send Evan a birthday wish.
Let’s all pray he’s back home before ski season ends.